The International Zinc Association (IZA) Africa Desk has secured research funding to investigate the feasibility of new zinc refining processes to help South Africa meet the demand for refined zinc.
Should the research develop a winning chemical engineering solution, the IZA would look to build a zinc refinery in Saldanha Bay, which is situated with an industrial development zone (IDZ) near a zinc ore export port.
The project is being sponsored by South African companies Vedanta South Africa, an IZA member, and Duferco Steel Processing.
The research will focus on developing and understanding novel refining processes to significantly reduce the external power input compared to traditional pyrometallurgical methods. This will allow for economically viable production of Special High Grade refined zinc.
Ore usage may be further maximised by producing refined by-products such as silver and rare earth elements, the IZA said. "The proposed operation will also have a considerably reduced carbon footprint," IZA Africa Desk spokesperson Simon Norton added.
The research work will be carried out at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in its Department of Chemical Engineering.
The experimental study will carefully explore the in-principle feasibility of a novel flowsheet for refined zinc production and by-product recovery from local ore concentrate materials, with the express emphasis on reduced and renewable energy input and reduced carbon and environmental footprints, the IZA said.
Norton said the funding for the research had been secured from within South Africa. The sponsors want to demonstrate the country's capability to produce special high-grade refined zinc, he added.